Awakenings Festival 2020
If an artist like James hadn't been into music from an early age you'd be seriously worried, so we shan't bore you with the details, suffice to say it involved his dad teaching him piano, a man called Mr Draycott teaching him violin, an (un)healthy appetite for the music of Queen, early dabblings on his first proto-computer and the unlikely musical guidance of his A-level physics teacher towards all things electronic. The stuff everyone is really interested in begins aged 19, with a track called "Horizons". Written during his summer holidays from his maths degree at Oxford University on a £500 PC and a piece of revolutionary music software called Buzz (a freeware internet download), this crossover anthem of the summer of 1999 propelled young James and his bedroom set-up into the top flight of dance music production. The rest, as they say, is history.
James' own DJ sets embrace the same spirit of eclecticism as his productions, uniting his own tracks and remixes with acid house, techno, electro and downtempo melodies, as demonstrated on last year's groundbreaking Balance 005 mix CD. "Aphex Twin doing Ferry Corsten up the bum" is James' current (rather unsavoury) description of choice. James' sets are always topped off with a huge helping of previously unheard fresh young production talent, many of whom have found a home on his Border Community label. In just one year the label has gained a reputation as a breeding ground for similarly free-spirited genre-benders, with every release fusing solid dancefloor rockers with leftfield ambient interpretations and handy dj tools.
MUSIC PRODUCTION & LABELS
To this day, James' DIY studio set-up remains largely unchanged since those early efforts, bar a few computer upgrades here and there. Despite initial whispers throughout the establishment about "analogue warmth", the days of the twenty grand studio entry level into the world of production were numbered. James had already opened the door for a new generation of talented young bedroom producer-punks who bolted after him, whilst those very same doubters are left scrambling to catch up to the digital revolution which threatened to pass them by. What James has created with this trusty PC is an edit-heavy hybrid sound all of his own, which crosses traditional genre boundaries and has found him fans in almost every scene. Holden tracks slot seamlessly into the sets of techno, trance, progressive and electro DJs alike. From pixie-trance to leftfield dance music, new wave house to melodic techno, the genre-classifiers have yet to find a label which accurately captures the unique yet universally appealing nature of Holden's music. And although he has spawned many an imitator, Holden's constantly evolving sound and rigorous attention to detail has been equalled by none. To a music world overly obsessed by scenes, the James Holden success story reads like a catalogue of contradictions. 2003's collaboration with vocalist Julie Thompson, "Nothing", was picked up by legendary UK house label Loaded, yet proclaimed by trance legend Tiesto to be his tune of the year. James has remixed everything from Crosstown Rebels electro-house to Positiva dance-pop; New Order to Britney Spears; Timo Maas dirty breaks to System 7 psy-trance; fast-rising young upstart Nathan Fake to Kirsty Hawkshaw's timeless classic "Fine Day". Meanwhile "A Break in the Clouds", the debut release on his own Border Community label, has become an underground European techno classic, still selling by the thousand a whole year after release, making its way onto compilations from Luke Slater and Monika Kruse, and winning Holden a firm following amongst the ever forward-thinking German dance fraternity. More recent developments on the studio front include new Holden & Thompson track "Come To Me", scheduled for release next year, and, after a couple of years respite from remixing, a fistful of new Holden remixes: the nintendo acid and tripped out vocal mixes of Britney Spears' "Breathe on Me"; a psychedelic electro-trance version of Nathan Fake's "The Sky Was Pink"; the dancefloor dub of System 7's "Planet 7"; and the frantic animals of Andre Kraml's "Safari" for Crosstown Rebels. Also poised on the horizon is an EP worth of new Holden tracks and, following on from 2002's "Bloodlock" co-write on none other than Sasha's "Airdrawndagger" album, a couple of collaborations with scene stalwarts Ashley Casselle and Slacker.
RECENT AND FUTURE PROJECTS:
Still only 25 years old, James Holden now finds himself exactly where he wants to be. As the digital producer par excellence he is blazing a trail through as yet unchartered territory, showing those who follow in his wake how it can, and should, be done. As a DJ he gets to travel the world, surprising and delighting in equal measures, and enlarging his band of followers at every port of call. And at the helm of his own buzz label Border Community he is proving himself to be quite the A&R man, discovering like-minded souls to help turn his musical vision into reality and peddling something a little different to the record-buying public. Underlying the three components of the James Holden recipe for success is an unerring belief in his own vision and a refusal to do things the way others tell him they always have been done. He is well into the process of carving out a niche all of his very own, and is not about to let anyone stop him now.